The Hartsfield Family Quilt Collection, dating from the time of slavery, will be on display in the virtual Gallery at Tacoma Community College January 14-February 5 Online in The Gallery at TCC.
The 12 quilts that comprise the Hartsfield Collection were made by four different seamstresses from the Hartsfield family from the 1850s to the 1920s, starting with a woman named “Miss Molly,” who was born into slavery around 1840. Named after Lena Hartsfield, who was born in the 1880s and preserved the quilts into the 20th century, the collection is currently preserved by Jim Tharpe, who wrote an essay about its history and shares the quilts with a larger audience.
The Hartsfield family created the quilts and kept them in repair to preserve history and strengthen multigenerational ties within the family. In his essay, Tharpe says that households involved in the Underground Railroad also passed along information to escaping slaves using “quilt codes” since quilts could be displayed without raising suspicion. The exhibit includes patterns that may have been used along with descriptions of what different patterns signified.
“The twelve quilts were made by family members who were either slaves or children of slaves,” said Tharpe in his essay about the collection. “Unfortunately, over the years many quilts were lost or discarded by family members not wanting to be reminded of their slave and Jim Crow era pasts. I am forever thankful to those ancestors who thought differently and protected these quilts until they came into my possession.”